Chris Boardman: Tour de France Stage Winner
One rider who made the Tour prologue his speciality and no doubt would have been an odds on favourite had it been held in London, is Chris Boardman. Three times he triumphed in a prologue (1994, 1997 and 1998) and was 2nd in 1996. The gap year you see there was not so successful as Chris crashed spectacularly, and heavily, in the rain and with the injuries sustained, was forced to abandon the race.
In his first victory in 1994, in Lille (France), Chris who was the reigning Olympic Pursuit champion, made everyone sit up and take notice with a record-breaking average speed of 55.152 kph for the prologue and in doing so, became the first Briton since Tom Simpson to wear the yellow jersey.
I sat down with Chris at the London Tour launch and asked did the sight of the starting ramp outside the conference centre bring back good memories? "I think they were painful memories because it's a scary piece of apparatus. My salary used to depend on the eight minutes after I left that piece of equipment. Looking at it outside, I'm very glad I don't do that anymore!" Chris, who has seen the adulation and carnival atmosphere that comes with the Tour then explained what it means for the Tour de France to come to London.
"I'm quite surprised they managed to do it in such a relatively short space of time since the last time it was here. It is a fantastic opportunity and the big challenge now, almost a worry for me, is that we really capitalise on this opportunity. We have a major PR chance here and we really need to make the most of it and put a lot of satellite events on around this one to make sure that when people have cycling like the Tour thrust in front of them, that when they turn around from it, there is something they can have a go at from Joe public upwards."
Having the Tour in London is also very significant and major triumph for Transport for London and the partner organisations, including British Cycling, who are behind this successful bid where the Tour prologue is going to take in so many iconic landmarks steeped in British history.
On this, Chris says, "Considering the traffic situation in London now, it's a very bold move to do this where they'll have to shut down busy parts of a world capital. I think this will pay off though as it's estimated the area will see a return of 70 million pounds worth of cash input on the back of this event alone, never mind the spin offs. And with the Olympics set to take place five years later, it's a chance to highlight to the World all the things that people can come and see in this city."
"Its one of those events you have to bring here if Britain is truly going to call itself Great Britain and show itself to be a serious player. It's not just the Olympic Games but things like this, events of a high calibre which I think is also important for wider political reasons."
Asked how important an event like this will be for the likes of the British riders Bradley Wiggins and David Millar, Chris replied "both Bradley and Dave have got an incredible opportunity here. It's something that may not come along again in a lifetime. It probably won't change their preparation one iota though because it's what they would already focus on to win. It may hone Bradley into thinking this is definitely what I am going to aim for now."
"What it does change is if they win a prologue in France, it effects their income where they get a better salary and they become more notorious among their peers. If they do it in Britain, it will hit the wider public as well so it's an incredible opportunity to help build a career and I sure they will both grab it with both hands."
Finally, I commented on the length of the prologue. At 8km, Chris said it is quite long, adding, "and it will be a challenge for Bradley because he is moving up to that distance. He moved up dramatically last year at the World Time Trial championships so to challenge past his normal four kilometre distance, he needs to keep working on that endurance.
"It looks the same but it is subtly different to ride in the region of nine minutes as opposed to four and a quarter. And I am sure it's a challenge he is up to. His coach Simon Jones likes a challenge and is a very very imaginative guy and I think between them, they will put on a very good show."